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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

Kraemer uses past lessons to guide future success

In recent memory, it seems like winning has been a given for Notre Dame. Four-straight double-digit victory seasons. Undefeated at home since September of 2017. A win rate of nearly 88% with two perfect regular seasons.

Tommy Kraemer knows all too well that it hasn’t always been that way.

When Kraemer arrived for his first season in South Bend in 2016, he was joining a team that hadn’t had a losing record in the Brian Kelly era. In fact, it was an Irish squad that hadn’t lost more than they’d won since 2007 when Charlie Weis sat at the helm of the program. But for all the success Notre Dame had, Kraemer’s first year in South Bend was different.

With a record of 4-8, the Irish didn’t even qualify for a bowl game. It was the second worst season (behind 2007) that the program had had since 1963, when Hugh Devore led Notre Dame to a record of 2-7 in his first and only season before Ara Parseghian took over.

So Kraemer’s first year in blue and gold was not quite what he expected it to be, and he expressed the feeling bluntly.

“Losing stinks."

But it was precisely that brutal season that Kraemer believes allowed the Irish to be where they are today.

“We’ve had so much success over the last four years, but you know, you always have to remember the times when we weren’t successful,” he said. “We can’t slip up on the little things in the day-to-day life. You have to remember what it was like then, and how you progress throughout the years — how we’ve been so successful — and you can’t veer away from what’s worked.”

Kraemer is now in his fifth year with the program, still eligible having been one of nine scholarship freshmen who didn’t play a single snap in 2016. But once he got the call-up as a sophomore, Kraemer was ready to take his place on the gridiron, eager to implement the lessons he’d learned from the sideline.

In 2017, the lineman played in all 13 games, starting 12, at right tackle. His blocking helped Notre Dame set a modern single-game rush per carry record (10.1 yards per attempt) and single-season school records for total yards on the ground (3,503) and average yards per rush (6.3). It also paved the way for 35 rushing touchdowns on the year.

That year’s Irish offensive line was awarded the Joe Moore Award, an accolade bestowed upon the “toughest, most physical offensive line in the country.” During that 10-3 season, Kraemer finally got a taste of success. He even cited his team’s 49-14 rout of arch-rival  USC as one of his career highlights.

“[The] USC game in 2017 was an awesome memory; awesome memory. There’s been a lot of fun games we played in,” he said.

Kraemer didn’t take his foot off the gas in 2018. As a junior, he saw the field in 12 more of the team’s 13 contests, starting 10 of them. His efforts helped the Irish earn an undefeated regular season before finishing 12-1 with a Cotton Bowl loss to Clemson.

Irish graduate student offensive lineman Tommy Kraemer blocks his man during Notre Dame’s 35-20 win over Virginia on Sept. 28, 2019, at Notre Dame Stadium. Coming into the 2020 season, Kraemer contributed 29 career starts to an offensive line that had 109 combined among the five returning starters.

The next year Kraemer proved his abilities as a pass blocker. Through seven starts in seven games, he did not allow a single sack, giving up just one quarterback hit and three hurries on graduate student quarterback Ian Book. He was named a mid-season All-American for his efforts, but his campaign was cut short after suffering a season-ending MCL sprain in Notre Dame’s rainy 45-14 loss to Michigan on Oct. 26, 2019.

In 2020, his last year in an Irish uniform, Kraemer is doing his best to make up for lost time.

“I think coming into the season, our expectations were higher than ever. We have a really disciplined team,” he said. “It’s definitely a different environment, no one really in the stands — you have to bring your own juice and energy. You really have to rely on your brothers on the field, which I think is even more special. We’ve been told before, ‘Everyone you love is in that stadium,’ and the people that care about you are there. That’s really all that matters, your teammates and your family. So it’s been a pretty fun year in that respect.”

And Kraemer has been using 2020 as an opportunity to make his Cincinnati family proud. Having been named the ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week following the Boston College game, he has started in nine of Notre Dame’s 10 games, the only exception being Senior Day against Syracuse while still getting up to speed following an emergency appendectomy.

Kraemer played an integral role in several key Irish wins. Against Clemson, he helped his team to 310 passing yards against an ACC-second-best Tigers pass defense which was allowing an average of just 174.9 yards per game. Against Boston College, he and his teammates didn’t let the Eagles get to Book once, though BC was averaging 2.75 sacks per game.

Additionally, this year has seen a stark improvement in Notre Dame’s running efforts, which had declined since the outstanding 2017 campaign. The Irish rushed for 208 yards on a Clemson team averaging just 99.9 yards allowed going into to the contest, and the starting right guard played no small part in his team hanging three rushing touchdowns on a team that had given up three total through seven prior games. That type of showing against top competition has once more made Kraemer’s unit a finalist for the award they won back in 2017.

But it’s not just what happens on the field that is important to Kramer — it’s what occurs off it too. He cited some of his fondest memories as “hanging out with the guys on the team off the field, especially the offensive line. We all live together, we hang out together all the time. It’s been really special,” he said.

Looking ahead to next year, Kraemer said he hopes to be drafted to the pros as he’ll train for the combine in the offseason. But for now, he’ll cherish the time he has left in South Bend.

“Notre Dame struck me as soon as I stepped foot on campus,” he said. “From then on is history.”